(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Villon’s Wife,” set in the dark years of the early postwar era, is narrated by the wife of a writer who has been much celebrated but who has given himself over to drunkenness and debauchery. The story opens late on a winter night as the woman, asleep with her retarded son, hears her husband come home, drunk as usual. With uncharacteristic tenderness the husband asks if the child still has a fever. At this point a man and woman arrive at the front door and call for the writer, Mr. Otani. An argument ensues and the wife tries to intervene, but Otani pulls a knife and rushes out of the house, “flapping the sleeves of his coat like a huge crow,” and disappears into the darkness.

The wife invites the two visitors into the shabby house and learns of the difficulty between these people and her husband. The couple explain that they run a small restaurant and drinking place where Otani has been a regular customer for several years, accompanied by a succession of women friends. He has run up a huge debt, but what is worse, on this particular evening, he has stolen five thousand yen that the owner needs in order to pay his wholesalers before the end of the year. Not wanting to make a scene in public, the couple have followed Otani home, hoping that they can persuade him quietly to return the money. Instead, he threatens them with a knife and runs away.

On hearing this story, the wife’s only response is to burst out laughing—they are so poor she cannot even afford to take her sick child to a doctor, much less pay back the five thousand yen her husband stole or pay off the debts he has accumulated. The wife, however, reassures the couple that everything will be settled the...

(The entire section is 698 words.)